Better Huts and Gardens

David and I had dinner at Machu Picchu Peruvian restaurant last night with Jon and Liz, both of whom attended boarding school with me, and Liz and I also went to the same college. Liz has been in Zambia for almost a year in the Peace Corps. She had a few days off and came home, and is heading back for the rest of her 27-month service next week.

Liz lives in a mud hut with a grass roof, but she has several huts, so it reminds me of having a bunch of forts like when I was a kid. There’s the hut where she sleeps, a kitchen hut, a latrine hut, a bathing hut (not technically a hut since it’s roofless), and a separate hut for entertaining guests. Is that like a parlor hut?

Highlights from her stories:

  • Zambians eat mice, fried termites, pumpkin leaves, lots of vegetables and peanuts, impala, and primarily a mushball thing made of cornmeal called nshima and dipped in various “relishes”
  • Liz speaks some Chinyanja and also works through interpreters. She mostly coordinates radio education at several schools and also does HIV/AIDS education. About 17% of the population has the virus and many people believe things like it being caused by a worm or that sleeping with a virgin can cure it
  • Unwanted Goodwill items often end up in Africa, so she sees lots of random T-shirts (Chicago Cubs, Disney characters but the kids have no idea what Disney is) and even 80s fashion (like men wearing shoulder-padded Western women’s jackets)
  • Liz has a Zambian name that means “What shall we say?” Many Zambian people are given names that somehow got lost in the translation, like Problem and Never and Tears. Liz was asked to name her neighbor’s newborn baby (someone suggested this is because you bring a gift when you name someone, and her gift was expected to be good!), who ended up being Grace Kathryn. Grace is Liz’s sister Kathryn’s middle name, but the people liked both names and now Liz’s sister has a swelled head as a result.
  • Liz saw two black mamba snakes in one day, one of which was right outside the door to her hut as she was leaving.
  • She hitchhikes or rides a bike everywhere, including to pick up her mail in a town 26 miles away.
  • There is no running water nor electricity in her village, but she can ride 25 minutes into the mountains to make a cell phone call, where she is bothered by Zambian kids who are curious. Apparently Zambians also greet her while she’s on the phone and she has to answer them because there’s no “I’m on the phone” understanding like you would find here
  • She has a small solar panel to recharge her batteries, cooks over a fire, and has to keep the mice from eating her toothpaste and water bottle.
  • Don’t send her any tampons. That’s the one thing everyone sent her in care packages!
  • We were trying to think of magazines she might want to receive in packages, so we came up with several like Fine Hutbuilding and Better Huts and Gardens (winner!)
  • Zambians often tell her “You are so fat!” because it is considered wonderful and healthy (and she’s actually losing weight with her biking and new diet!)
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    Guilt. If you say it enough times, it stops making sense.

    I’m currently freezing in the basement office, trying to wear my new robe because David hates the pink fleece one that is much warmer. But he left for work and I just need to get myself upstairs to put on that warmer one.

    I ate the rest of the Pad Thai (can you believe I suggested it was missing something important like soy sauce, and OMG, he DID forget the soy sauce? He has it running in his veins! also, I can NEVER tell what ingredient is missing), and now I’m back with a pink robe. Walt decided it was his job to make it as difficult as possible for me to put on my socks. He was also observed licking the toilet rim this morning, after which he immediately ran to the bedroom and licked my hand. Now he’s continuing his project of removing all stuffing from the blue lamb toy through the hole he made in its anus.

    Last year about this time I started some kind of 2006 In Review post, left it in draft status for a couple of weeks, and then deleted it. There is something about me that absolutely resists categorizing the last year (or whatever period of time), and even more than that, I resist making resolutions. I can’t remember ever making resolutions. I hate goal-setting because of the risk of disappointing myself and especially others knowing about it. This makes it hard to write my Performance Management document every year at work, but I do it because it’s required. I’m good at keeping notes all year and then spinning the document to make me look good, but I think that’s mostly because I’m a good writer. (I am a Good Employee, of course, but it seems very silly and time-wasting for me to spend hours writing about how I met company and building priorities rather than just DOING MY JOB. This is also why I was not comfortable being a supervisor, because then I felt I wasted a lot more time helping my employees document all that stuff rather than all of us just DOING OUR JOBS.) Anyway, I did well at work last year, but it’s counterintuitive for me to record that.

    At home, though, there is no one making me take stock of my life. I feel a little guilt about not doing it, but is it even useful? Wouldn’t it be like my PM at work, where I do what I always do, and then in November take a look at the other things I said I’d do and quickly squeeze it in under stress (while still doing my ACTUAL JOB), or spin it to say why I didn’t need to do that thing? I operate every day on guilt as it is, and I don’t see a need to introduce more. Without guilt running my life, I’d shrivel and die, I think.

    So this year I have plans to start an IRA, but I wouldn’t call it a resolution. Every year I have some financial ideas, seeking to be safer/stronger with my money, but that’s self-driven by guilt anyway (or more precisely, fear of financial insecurity, but that falls under guilt in general for me). Doesn’t anyone else feel so badly that they didn’t lose the weight they said they would that they resolve not to resolve anything ever again? Note: I don’t plan to lose weight. I know that’s a biggie around here, but if I were to make some sort of resolution, it would probably be around contributing more peace to the world. I’ll do that anyway due to guilt!